Understanding Conceptions of Space and Time in Tribal Water Quality Governance Grant uri icon



  • This project examines conceptions of space and time in water quality governance among indigenous peoples of the western United States in order to better understand disproportionate threats to water quality in indigenous communities and struggles to assert governance over waters. Water is fundamentally connected to both time and space in many indigenous ontologies; its stewardship is a cultural value. Despite the belief of water's central role in networks of non-human living and non-living beings, indigenous peoples have experienced difficulties in the management of their waters. Not only do tribes face broad-based restrictions over the control of water quality on their lands; centuries of colonization, economic exploitation, and the assertion of primacy in water jurisdiction by states has diminished governance options. This research recognizes that conceptions of space and time are central to both water as a whole, and water as it is governed.

    Spatio-temporalities are fundamental to the establishment of values and vital to socio-cultural relationships. Moreover, since water flows across cultural boundaries and political borders, its governance forces interactions between people with different spatial and temporal experiences, which challenges power dynamics, justice, and equity. The broader impacts of this work address disparities in access to resources and the improved well-being of individuals in society, particularly with regard to diverse worldviews and their role in resource management. This work additionally supports the participation of underrepresented minorities in research as well as increased partnerships between academia and tribal communities by exploring serious threats to water quality that disproportionately affect particular communities.

    This research specifically asks: 1) How are space and time recognized, represented, and acted upon in water quality governance by tribal communities?  2) How do various interpretations of space and time between tribal, federal, state and local governments facilitate or inhibit tribes from asserting authority and building capacity in water quality governance?  Working collaboratively with the Northern Arapaho and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes, this research employs elements of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as a conceptual framework and Participatory Mapping (PM) as a method to collaborate with community members in investigations of particular water quality concerns. Research will culminate in a symposium to understand ways in which results relate to water quality governance to indigenous communities across the United States. Looking at who decides when and where has political, social and economic consequences that are often linked to power dynamics and environmental and social justice. This project helps to reveal these trends more clearly.

date/time interval

  • September 1, 2016 - February 28, 2019

total award amount

  • $350,006

sponsor award ID

  • 1636533